Tag: Words


Finding words

I planned to devote my time on Miss Demeanors this week to writing about words that intrigue me. But in the wake of last week’s tragedy and violence, I found my words failing. But then I happened upon a Facebook post by Cate Holahan, a founding Miss Demeanor and fabulous writer, and she kindly agreed to let me re-post. So here’s what she had to say to her children: A few days ago, I pushed homeschool by a couple hours to have a hard conversation with my daughters about racism and White privilege. My girls are a quarter Black but they are perceived by most people as White because they came out fair, blond, and blue-eyed. We talked about how the way they look would make some people more likely to trust them or give them preferential treatment. We discussed how they had to be vigilant to make sure that they were never used to further anyone’s racist agenda and that they never took advantage of their privilege by allowing themselves to be unfairly elevated over another person. We talked about the woman in Central Park, George Floyd, and institutional racism. My youngest kept telling me, horrified, that some individuals […]

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A few months ago, I was teaching a class and mentioned that my boss would be visiting us to share some information about an upcoming conference. Immediately one of my students said, “Don’t use that word. Boss has negative connotations.” So I asked, “What word would you use in its place?” and she suggested supervisor.

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These are a few of our favorite quotes.

Some writers string ordinary words together–a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph–in ways that have as much in common with what most of us read as Belgian lace does with the friendship bracelets I made in second grade. These writers capture scents from far away places so perfectly that I’m sure I can smell them; they paint settings with such detail that I’m certain I remember being there. They describe emotions I didn’t know I had until I read their words and feel that way, too. Michele’s question last week about which writers we’d like to spend time with led me to think about the writers whose words stay with us; the writers we can’t stop quoting. For me, The Princess Bride springs to mind (“Life is pain, anyone who says otherwise is obviously selling something!” and “As you wish…” and “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” and … ) So, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors to pick their favorite quotes. Being the writers and the readers they are, they had a lot to say. I contemplated editing for the sake of brevity, but decided the answers were all too good to cut.   Fellow writers and readers, I hope you enjoy these wonderful quotes as much as I do. When you’re finished reading, please add your own. These winter nights are long; and there’s nothing quite as wonderful as snuggling into a warm blanket and a good book. Robin: That’s a tough question. So many to choose from. I find at least one nugget in just about every book I read. A line that comes to mind, though, is from a poem in the Fellowship of The Ring by JRR Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Aside from the fact that it’s one of the most popular quotes ever written (and often misquoted), I remember it because it resonated with me when I first read it in middle school and it resonates with me still. When I was young, the line elicited the dreams I ultimately ended up living – I’ve traveled the world on a shoestring budget, first class, and in-between. I’ve partied with rock stars, watched meteor showers in a desert, spent a night in a major city jail, been chased by a bear. I’ve met lots of interesting people, loved fiercely, and suffered devastating losses. The Tolkien quote sums up my commitment to follow my passions wherever they may lead, no matter how humble, lofty, or fraught with various types of danger. Wanderer? You bet. Lost? Not yet. Cate: This is my fave in our genre of the last five years. GILLIAN FLYNN, Gone Girl: “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.  I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be. Oh, and if you’re not a Cool Girl, I beg you not to believe that your man doesn’t want the Cool Girl. It may be a slightly different version – maybe he’s a vegetarian, so Cool Girl loves seitan and is great with dogs; or maybe he’s a hipster artist, so Cool Girl is a tattooed, bespectacled nerd who loves comics. There are variations to the window dressing, but believe me, he wants Cool Girl, who is basically the girl who likes every fucking thing he likes and doesn’t ever complain. (How do you know you’re not Cool Girl? Because he says things like: “I like strong women.” If he says that to you, he will at some point fuck someone else. Because “I like strong women” is code for “I hate strong women.”)” I read that at thirty and I felt like Gillian took my life between the ages 17 to 23, crumpled them up into a ball and threw them through a basketball hoop into the trash. I will never romanticize that period of pageantry for the opposite sex again. I never ate chili dogs, but I definitely pretended to like sports. I dated the MVP of the baseball team in college. For nearly four years, I pretended to like college baseball played with aluminum bats. You know what happens when someone hits a home run in college baseball? You hear a really loud ping and then you watch someone run around the field because in college ball you can’t get cocky and jog. Worse, I convinced myself I liked it. I sang the national anthem at nearly every game and cheered my a cappella nerd butt off because I thought that being a good woman meant accepting the inferiority of whatever you actually liked in order to be likeable. (The ex was also a painter… I actually liked that, though). So happy I grew up before I settled down with someone whom I was too insecure around to be me. Preach, Gillian. PREACH!!! Susan: Much as I love Christmas, it’s also a time when I remember those I have lost, especially my son, Will, who died almost 11 years ago. So when I read William Kreuger’s book, Ordinary Grace, about a family that experiences loss, I could have underlined just about every word in the book. This passage, that comes toward the end of the book, from a pastor’s funeral service, hit home:  “God never promised us an easy life. He never promised that we wouldn’t suffer, that we wouldn’t feel despair and loneliness and confusion and desperation. What he did promise was that in our suffering we would never be alone. And though we may sometimes make ourselves blind and deaf to his presence he is beside us and around us and within us always. We are never separated from his love. And he promised us something else, the most important promise of all. That there would be surcease. That there would be an end to our pain and our suffering and our loneliness, that we would be with him and know him, and this would be heaven.” I also like this one:  “And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.”  Paula: Ordinary Grace is one of my favorites, too. But I could never pick just one book. So I’ll go with what I’m reading right now. Right now I’m rereading The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco. Not only does Umberto Eco write a lot of quotable prose himself in this novel, he also quotes myriad saints, philosophers, and scripture, often in Latin, Greek, even Medieval German. So I am spending as much time looking up the translations (thank you, Google) as I am reading. Here are some of the best:“In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro.” I searched for quiet everywhere, and found it nowhere except in a corner with a book.“Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…” “Mundus senescit.” The world grows old.“This, in fact, is the power of the imagination, which, combining the memory of gold with that of the mountain, can compose the idea of a golden mountain.” “Gott ist ein lauter Nichts, ihn rührt kein Nun noch Hier.” God is a pure nothing, neither Now nor Here touches Him.“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”“De hoc satis.” Enough of that. Tracee: Uh oh, the pressure is on. Tolkien? Eco? I am tempted to cheat and find a few quotes, but that would definitely not be in the spirit of the season – or of the question. I find myself loving lines in books I’m currently reading, but not necessarily to the point that I can quote them without looking. The lines I do remember off hand tend to come from books I read while young. Maybe my memory was simply better? However, I think that it is because so many concepts were new and resonated strongly. Because of this I remember lots of bits of Dickens and others, including the famous “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” line from Gone with the Wind. (“Frankly” was added for the movie, but that’s splitting hairs.) I read Gone with the Wind the summer before I turned eleven and it stayed with me. Scarlett was close enough to my own age for me to understand she was a girl up against the world, but also to see that she made mistake after mistake, grasping at dream worlds, torn between being who she wanted to be and who she thought others wanted her to be, and ultimately losing everything because of her own selfishness. It’s also fair to say that this may have led to my love of Russian literature – early indoctrination into inevitable tragic endings.  In this, I’m with Cate. We remember what informs us. It doesn’t have to be a line from the greatest literary mind, but something that speaks in that moment to our world.  Alexia: Does it have to be a book? Because my favorite source of quotes is Casablanca. Every. Single. Line. My favorites among favorite quotes are: Yvonne: Where were you last night?Rick: That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?Rick: I never make plans that far ahead. Because I totally get Rick’s attitude. I love characters like Rick–good guys who either don’t realize they’re one of the good ones or who have been hurt and put up bad guy walls to protect themselves. It just takes the right redemptive moment to let the good guy shine through. My second favorite: Rick: And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.Captain Renault: That is my *least* vulnerable spot.And Third:
Ugarte: You despise me, don’t you?Rick: If I gave you any thought I probably would.Ugarte: You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.(Yes, I like Renault and Ugarte, too.)  If I have to go with a book, Alice in Wonderland is my favorite.Curioser and curioser.We’re all mad here.Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.”Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked. “There isn’t any,” said the March HareAnd (finally) “Oh frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!” which is from “Jabberwocky” which is from Alice Through the Looking Glass but it’s still Alice.Alice has always been my hero because she’s a fearless girl who goes on adventures and uses her own wits to get herself out of trouble. And Lewis Carroll was a genius–weird, but a genius–whose works are delightfully snarky. Michele: I love this question and the answers it is inspiring. There are so many, too many inspirational quotes from books that I love to chose just one. But the one that I like best reminds me about the folly of human relationships. It may be odd coming from a seasoned family law attorney, but Mr. Darcy’s beleaguered proposal to Elizabeth melts my heart. “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’’ It reminds me that loving and being loved is the universal theme for all humans. I am a hopeless romantic. And now, please add your own favorites and why they resonate with you.

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Words, Words, Words

                                                                                                Words empty as the wind are best unsaid.                                                                             Homer You will never find me wailing Eliza Doolittle’s lament, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words.” I love words, maybe too much. I’m one of those writers who has to reel herself in during the word selection process. Like a florist surrounded with so many wonderful blossoms to choose from, I sometimes want to use all of the words that pop into my head. One of my biggest challenges has been killing my darlings.  By creating a clipboard where I save rather than discard them, I manage to move on.            But it’s not just while writing that I can be distracted by words. I discovered I’m faintly word-obsessed during a conversation with my husband during which we were trying to figure out why my kindle didn’t hold a charge as long as his, the suggestion being that I was doing something technologically incorrect. Wrong. It turned out I am simply fixated by the feature that allows you to look up the meaning and roots of words as you are reading, causing a power drain. So much easier than in the days when I had to carry a notebook with me so I could look up words later rather than lug a dictionary around.            I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth George, not simply because I admire her writing, adore being transplanted to England, and would run away with Thomas Lynley (let this be our secret), but because in every book she has ever written she has sent me on multiple side excursions to the dictionary. Good writers, like George, know how to use interesting words without distracting the reader from the story. Bad writers who are trying to impress with weighty words annoy and alienate their readers.            I find words that fascinate me everywhere. I struggled for years to describe myself as a person who loves rain. I now know I am a pluviophile, a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days.  I noticed when I typed pluviophile it was underlined in red, so I just looked it up in the “Word” dictionary and found it isn’t listed. More investigation on Google revealed it is “pending investigation.” Do you see what I mean? One word and I’m off like a detective on a noble search.            I notice my writing friends are similarly afflicted. Blog mate, Susan Breen, last week posted on Facebook, “I used the word crenellated yesterday, and I think I used it properly. Though I’m not sure I should have.” Susan had me diving for the dictionary wondering if my guess about the meaning of the word was correct and feeling an odd combination of pride and relief when I was.  I wanted to know why she wondered if she should have used the word.            Just yesterday, Facebook friend and MWA New England colleague, Lee McIntyre posted, “My amygdala is exhausted.” A quick check told me Lee was referring to a part of the brain, which sounded vaguely familiar from my days as a student nurse. But of course I wanted to know which part of the brain and why Lee’s was exhausted. Amygdala is the integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation.  Further scholarly research on Google showed Amygdala is associated mostly with fear.            Maybe you can see why I stay away from crossword puzzles. I fear I would be lost forever under a mountain of words, trying to tunnel out, but distracted by each word I tried to burrow through.             What do words mean in your reading or writing life? How do react to new words you encounter?                                     

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